Small Hotel in Kahn's Bazaar, Cairo, 1940--Day One of the Search
Ardeth's three year old filly Tjia had nearly collapsed during the northeasterly run Ardeth made her do across the western desert. In the El Faiyum oasis, he'd put Tjia up in a stable, and had rented a fresh horse. He'd paid with several small rings of silver. The stable boy's eyes had grown large at the size of the payment, but he knew the Commander of the Med Jai was a generous man and would often have need of such help from poor stable boys.
He had ridden hard and fast the rest of the way to the Nile, stopping only to rest the horse. A sense of urgency spurred him on, and it showed upon his strained face. Upon reaching the Nile village of Beni Suef, he'd rented a fast felucca and paid the owner with a dozen rings of gold, which had not only earned Ardeth a fast felucca but the lasting gratitude of the felucca's owner.
Finally reaching Cairo, he had sought out a small hotel in Kahn's Bazaar, which rented rooms by the hour, and which he used often for changing his clothes and taking a shower.
Ardeth let the cool water flow over him and wash the sand and the salt from his skin.
As he showered, Ardeth couldn't help but thinking of his terrifying dream. He'd spurred his mount Tjia to her limits, and to his relief, Tjia had responded well to his commands. But during the nights on the felucca, the Dark One showed him what Egypt would become should Ardeth fail in his quest:
Ardeth stood on the edge of the gaping maw where the three Great Pyramids had once stood.
In the huge hole as deep as the Qartrani Depression, debris and human remains mingled together in a macabre mix. Already, the sucking dry air of the late Saharan summer had transformed the screaming corpses into dried husks, their hands reaching out to him, imploring, pleading him to help them, their mouths forever open in screams.
Tears were flowing down Ardeth's face as he looked into the earthly version of the Underworld.
"It is not too late. You still have time to restore Egypt’s Ma’at, Chosen One. It is not yet the seventh day of the full moon," Nuit's velvet voice whispered to him, comforting him as the tears flowed down his face.
Too late for what he felt would happen? That Cairo would be rent by a terrible shaking and later overrun by tanks and airplanes bent on destroying this very Egypt? When he'd seen the airplanes come from the Mediterranean towards Cairo, a long black line as dark as a line of thunderheads, Ardeth had started screaming in his sleep. He felt that the line of airplanes was a great pestilence coming from the north--north of the Mediterranean--and the pestilence couldn't be stopped from spreading.
It was at that point in the dream that Nuit, The Great Mother, had stopped to look at him and send some of her children to shoot across the sky to comfort her Chosen One in his sleep.
The shaking of Cairo he could stop. All he had to do was find the Ring of Nuit and return it to her ruined temple by the seventh day of the new moon.
And by getting the Ring of Nuit back to its rightful place by the seventh day of the new moon, Ardeth knew he could mitigate the effects of the coming pestilence on Cairo and the rest of his Egypt. But Ardeth knew he couldn't stop the pestilence from spreading to the rest of the world.
Ardeth finished his shower and had changed into the fresh clothes he'd packed with him. He paid for his room with a few copper bracelets and went to the small hotel's restaurant to pick up something to eat and drink. He knew he'd have a long hard journey ahead of him. The sounds of the bickering in Kahn's Bazaar filtered in through the shade of the many trees that the owner had planted in sturdy stone planters.
"Greetings, Ardeth," a pleasant voice, accented with a North London accent said. "Kem, your favorite belly dancer, is here today. Shall I arrange a private viewing with her?"
"Kem may be a pleasure to look at, but I have other plans," Ardeth said as John placed before Ardeth a plate of bread, a plate of meat and vegetables and a pitcher of iced tea.
"Ahh, yes. Which one called you?"
"Nuit," Ardeth said, taking a long sip of the iced tea. He'd discovered he'd liked iced tea; mainly he liked the sugar. He finished the glass in one long sip and refilled it.
"The Great Mother. Do you need assistance? Anything I can do?" John asked, inclining his head reverently.
Ardeth thought about this request. He would have need of a fast felucca...or even better, one of the small airplanes (he shuddered to think of getting on an airplane for in his mind he kept seeing that black line of airplanes heading towards Cairo with the malign intent of destroying the ancient city). Yes, an airplane.
"My friend, I have urgent need of an airplane. I need to get to the city of Djeba by the seventh day of the full moon," he told John as he picked up a piece of bread and sopped up some of the juice. He took a bite.
"Curry," he smiled around his bread.
"Airplane to Djeba," John mused as he stroked his chin. He kept his body clean shaven, like the priests of antiquity did. "I can arrange one for you," he told Ardeth. "You do know the seventh day of the full moon is six days away," he told Ardeth, who was taking a huge bite of meat.
Ardeth nearly choked on his mouthful of meat. Managing to swallow, he asked, "Six days? I've only six days to find the Ring of Nuit?"
John nodded. If you need to get to Djeba by the seventh day of the full moon, you have only six days in which to do so."
Ardeth paled beneath his thick black beard. How could he find the Ring of Nuit in less than six days' time?
"I shall, of course, pay you with some of the gold..." he started to tell John but John held up his hand.
"A horse. A fine filly," John said.
Ardeth nodded. He had plenty of fillys, most of the young colts were too skittish to be of much use to Ardeth. He was more than willing to offload a few of them for use as workhorses, or in John's case, to provide entertainment to his young daughter. He would choose Tutu, Tjia's daughter. Tutu was a smaller horse, much smaller than her mother, almost a midget horse, and she was gentle enough for John's young daughter to ride around on.
Ardeth placed meat and vegetables on the bread and took a bite. Swallowing, he said,
"The Great Imhotep, Architect and High Priest to King Djoser, built a temple to Khnum when the God told him that building a temple to his glory would end the famine which had been ravaging the Nile for seven years. Upon completion of the temple; indeed, the very day the last stone was slid into place, the God was happy, and Isis wept her tears, ending the seven year famine," Ardeth said. "I don't want to think of the destruction of Ma’at which will occur if I don't find the Ring of Nuit as the Goddess commands me," he finished.
John sat down. "Is it...will it?" his voice trailed off as Ardeth looked at him with sad eyes.
"My friend, if I don't bring the Ring of Nuit back to her ruined temple in Djeba, a terrible catastrophe will await Cairo--and Egypt. I can not let this happen."
"What kind of catastrophe?" John was nothing if not insistent.
Ardeth looked at John. Was it better to keep his own counsel or better to tell John. He decided to tell John, for he was a superstitious man and Ardeth needed help. John thought he was the reincarnation of an ancient Egyptian--like a lot of people these days. The British archeologist, Howard Carter, was largely responsible for the phenomenon--at least to Ardeth's mind--but Ardeth knew that Egyptology fever and the craze of reincarnation had begun late in the last century.
"The Ring of Nuit can prevent the destruction of the Pyramids," he told John. "As a reincarnated priest of Osiris, I trust you understand what the destruction of the pyramids truly means," Ardeth intoned.
Now it was John's turn to pale. His father had been British; his mother a mix of Ethiopian, Coptic Egyptian and Italian. Like the priests of antiquity, John shaved all his body hair, and went so far as to wax off his eyebrows, a prospect Ardeth thought to be painful.
"Cairo? The pyramids? Will they be destroyed? The end of mankind?" John's voice cracked.
"Not if I can restore Ma’at to Egypt," Ardeth said as he took a bite of the vegetables. The potato was still new to him, and he found he enjoyed the vegetable. He desperately wanted to start his search, but he knew he needed all his strength, for the coming days would be arduous.
For the destruction of the pyramids was the element of horror which had awakened Ardeth and he'd found himself screaming into Nuit's starry shoulder and then, gratefully, had felt the cool breath of the Bringer of the Wind cooling his skin and cooling his fears.
The destruction of the Pyramids was also the source of the recurring dreams Ardeth had been experiencing the past month.
"I'll make the arrangements for the plane. Just tell me when you need the plane," he told Ardeth.
"As soon as possible. I shall also need you to send word to my Commanders at the base of the Qartrani Mountains. Dekel, my fastest runner, is waiting there in a campsite. I need my Commanders to travel as quickly as possible to Djeba," Ardeth asked of his friend. "I will be able to make payment in elephant ivory."
"For one tusk of elephant ivory you will be able to rent a train! I know who to send who is the fastest messenger. Dekel can expect to see an airplane."
"Then make it so," Ardeth said, then added, "Dekel will like seeing an airplane."
"I have more than one friend with airplanes," John said, smiling. "A priest of Osiris needs to be prepared."
Ardeth finished up his meal. A young boy had brought a plate of baklava and Ardeth took a piece from the plate. The honey-walnut mixture was good, and sweet. Baklava was a Greek import to Cairo and Ardeth had found he had a penchant for the Greek dessert.
The bickering continued in Kahn's Bazaar. The Bazaar was thousands of years old, and Ardeth's ancestors began their trading here. In Kahn's Bazaar one could find anything: ancient mummy beads--the faience beads used in burials--to gold and silver jewelry needing to be pawned.
Ardeth thought he would find the Ring of Nuit in Kahn's Bazaar. But first he would go to the Pyramids and ask for help from the faint echoes of the Gods who still hovered near, still protecting the Pharoahs who had built the Pyramids.
John and Ardeth sat in silence, listening to the faint sounds of bickering from the Bazaar, each looking inwards--Ardeth about how to find the Ring of Nuit and John was thinking about how terrible these times were to live in: the War looming in Europe, and now Ardeth's revelation.
Ardeth finished up his baklava. "I need to be off," he said, standing up.
John stood up as well. "May the Gods find you well, and may you find the Ring of Nuit quickly," he said to Ardeth, as Ardeth took his leave of John's little roadside restaurant.